On December 18, 2019 Health Action Network Society received a letter from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that communicated the following: The Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch have concluded, through consultation with the Ministry of Health and the Provincial Health Officer that this content did not conform to the Ministry of Health’s Strategic Framework for Immunization in B.C.  The letter confirmed that HANS has, as of the date of the letter, lost 40% of our annual funding due to past dissemination of vaccine education information.  Interestingly, the referenced BC Ministry of Health immunization framework has been in place since 2007 – the year HANS first became a recipient of the gaming grant.  HANS has received the grant every year since and has, as a condition of the funding, disclosed all programming activities.  Somehow our activities were not considered nonconforming until 2019.

Current Canadian Governments and Health Freedom

2019 dropped many questions on our laps, provided no answers, and led us to several conclusions that do not comfortably align with the state of democratic freedom we presume to enjoy.

On a national level, most of the holistic and complementary health community is aware that Health Canada is quietly, slowly implementing a new Natural Health Product framework that threatens the existence of small manufacturers, practitioners who compound, and those who rely on traditional claims to secure their Natural Product Number.  The initiative is a slow burn that we’re expected to acclimatize to – much like the proverbial frog being boiled to death.

What’s happening in B.C. is somewhat different.  A more apt analogy is that of a witch hunt without trial concluded by a burning at the stake.

HANS has historically enjoyed an open, communicative dialogue with the provincial government.  One of our founding members recently provided evidence of this: several pieces of correspondence between HANS and various provincial politicians who served throughout the 2000s.  Gordon Campbell, Mike Harcourt, and others of varying party affiliations provided supportive, solution-driven, collaborative endorsements of HANS.  This is no more.

It’s been a stormy couple of years for those who work in holistic and complementary health in British Columbia. What’s changed?  We aren’t sure.  It’s certainly not Canadian and British Columbian demand for therapies and products. In 2017, Canadians spent $6.5 billion on providers of holistic and complementary therapies.  During the same year, approximately 65 percent of British Columbians used holistic and complementary therapies.  British Columbians are the most health-progressive of Canadians; somehow the provincial government is not respecting these well-demonstrated values.

The BC Ministry of Health and the CBC – an effective, disheartening symbiosis

 From April 16, 2018 to July 15, 2019 (15 months), one CBC British Columbia reporter published at least 21 stories that were designed to erode public confidence in “alternative” health practices.  The stories are unethically alarmist and misleading, providing dramatic headlines and incomplete facts.  Said reporter has, through our publicly funded national broadcaster, bullied chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, related institutions, HANS and federal elected officials. Upon reviewing her stories, I can safely say that never once, with the exception of the federal elected officials, were the subjects of the attacks given the opportunity to defend themselves with more than a mere perfunctory statement.

Though Canadian media has remained relatively un-editorialized, (thanks for the most part to the CRTC), a strong bias against alternative health practices and products has emerged in recent years, particularly by the CBC.  The 21 CBC stories seem to have been designed to create a public bias, instigate public pressure, and inevitably, illicit a provincial government response.

To be clear – the so-called violations cited in the CBC’s reporting were mostly around dissemination of information, except for one treatment incident that was successful from a health perspective, but easy to sensationalize, exploit, and link to other issues.  The CBC stories did not indicate a single injury or fatality at the hands of a practitioner or product.

This is most definitely a chicken and egg puzzle.  Did said reporter intentionally create public pressure that the Ministry of Health saw as an opportunity to diminish health freedom in British Columbia?  Or did the ministry use the CBC as a tool to attempt to manipulate the public into an anti-alternative health bias?  It may or may not be relevant that Adrian Dix, current Minister of Health, was once a CBC contributor.

Sadly, these events – and the provincial government’s support of them – have fuelled division and polarization, which begs the question: Is this a case of divide and conquer?  Health freedom and respect for health and wellness choice are not only no longer encouraged; they’re barely tolerated.

Paradoxically, the motivation behind these efforts to immobilize the complementary health community is the very reason for HANS’s existence.  As disappointing as this situation has been, it validates our work and strengthens our conviction. HANS will be appealing this decision on principle.